Empowered living is synonymous with living in the present moment. Concern over the future naturally begets anxiety. And most times, attachment to the past only keeps us from moving forward and growing. But living in the present moment is a challenge. That’s because of the way the world works. It’s often a cold and hostile place. And there’s little security, especially in some societies. So, we struggle. And we suffer and fail. We fret about tomorrow. And we’re haunted by the past. We do our best to rest in the present. But our present moments are often dominated by what’s already transpired what we fear might come to pass.
Living in the present moment is difficult for anyone. But it’s particularly challenging for abuse and toxic relationship survivors. Trauma leaves deep impressions. It changes our neurobiology. Remarkably, some folks are endowed with a better ability to recover. But many more folks bare the scars of trauma for years. Generally, it requires a heroic effort to wrest free of concern and rest in the present moment.
I’m really sensitive about issues related to living in the present moment. That’s why I decided to write about it last week. (See: The Power of the Present Moment.) That sensitivity comes from both personal and professional experience. I know very well what trauma can do to the brain and the psyche. And I was motivated to familiarize myself with the only known antidote.
All effective therapies (e.g., EMDR, exposure, desensitization, CBT, etc.) have one thing in common. They bring folks into the present moment in an atmosphere of safety. Pairing one’s present experience with safety helps reprogram the brain. Still, the trick is how to get into the present moment and stay there. I know the way I did it. And by today’s standards, it would be considered crude. But it worked. (It still does!) And I’ll be forever grateful. But for some, getting into and staying in the present moment is the task of a lifetime. Still, it’s the key to empowered living.
Last week some folks took issue with some of my word choices. And I understand why. But what I’ve come to know deeply is this: empowered living begins with choice. Sometimes, circumstances rightly have us thinking we have no choice. And even more tragic, sometimes almost all the choices we feel we have simply stink. That’s expecially true in cases of severe abuse. Victims know in their gut that the most dangerous time is when they seriously consider wresting free. And that knowledge leaves them feeling helpless and hopeless. But I am passionate about personal empowerment. So, despite the sensitivity of the subject, i can’t help but speak out clearly, directly, and unreservedly about the way forward.
Rehearsing the “Now”
What distinguishes us humans from all other creatures is our capacity to learn. We have these amazingly plastic and adaptive brains. And even the most traumatized brains can learn to recover. But neurobiological reprograming takes time and patience. And it takes dedication. Even more importantly, it takes doing differently. Doing the same old things only yields the same results. To change your life you must change yourself first. That means changing the way you see and do things. And while that’s pretty straighforward, it’s definitely not easy. Still, doing differently in the here and now is what personal empowerment is all about.
Making these changes is not an attractive proposition. And it seems so unfair. After all, toxic relationship survivors are used to doing all the suffering while their abusers seem to go scott free. But with time and dedicated rehearsing, you cultivate empowering habits. And when you remember the all-important task of self-reinforcing your efforts, it gets a bit easier. Sometimes, you have to change a thought or behavior on a minute-by-minute basis. But the eventual effect is the same. And over time, empowered living becomes more habitual.
I’ll have more to say on the importance of self-reinforcement next week. And you can read more about this subject in How Did We End Up Here?